As of May 2020, Cannabis is fully legal in 20 states and has partial legality (e.g. it may be legal as a medicine but not for recreational use) in many more.
This loosening up of the regulations has meant a huge increase in the number of regular cannabis users, many of whom are in the older age bracket. In fact, a recent study reported that the percentage of people aged 65 and older who said they used some form of marijuana almost doubled between 2015 and 2018.
For the most part people using cannabis report benefits that encompass greater wellbeing and reduced aches and pains. But it’s a fact that the potential negative health consequences of cannabis preparations are not well studied, especially compared with the known side effects of the prescription medications they may replace.
A specific concern relates to a potential effect of cannabis on the heart. In a new blog on this topic, Harvard health Publishing point to a review in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which suggests more than two million Americans with heart disease currently use or have used marijuana, and that there is an association between the drug and a broad range of adverse cardiovascular risks.
The main concern put forward by the authors of this review is that marijuana is becoming increasingly potent, and that smoking it carries many of the same cardiovascular health hazards as smoking tobacco. Synthetic cannabinoids have in particular been linked to more sustained and deleterious cardiovascular effects.
In previous research some specifics of how acute cannabis consumption may be harmful to the heart have been elucidated. They include rapid increases in blood pressure, arrhythmias that may increase the risk of fatal heart attack, and an increased risk of ischemic stroke, especially in younger people. In healthy young people, the cardiovascular dangers appear to be compounded by cigarette smoking and precipitated by excessive physical activity, especially during the first few hours of consumption.
The bottom line from researchers is that more awareness and education is needed around the potential cardiovascular risks of cannabis—in both older and younger users.